(This started out as a response to Fox71 and a discussion of Yell Leaders in yesterday's lead article. It got too long -- so I'm posting it here. Fox asked me to compare the role and capability of yell leaders in my day, 1966, with the situation we have, today, here is my response.)
My brother Fox, I think things are very different now -- and the differences make a comparison between my days and today difficult.
Before I explain why -- let me make clear that it is possible for young Bruins to effectively lead cheers and create the "home crowd" advantage, spirit and joy that should surround college football. Long before we had an alumni cheer leader, we relied on students to do the job -- and they did it well. We were loud, involved and rocked our home field (the Coliseum). We did the 8 clap correctly -- slow, building and powerful, and for an added measure of style -- we had a "card section" second to none. Student run -- no adults needed.
So, what are the differences? Here are a few random thoughts:
1. In our day, in the Coliseum, our students had the BEST seats. We had the side line seats. And, we filled them. Contrast that to today: we stuff the students in a corner of the Rose Bowl. They often do not fill it.
Today, most of the good seats are taken by alums. That makes a bit of sense. In the more than 50 years since I started UCLA, there are now a lot more alums. Couple that with treating them as cash cows and demoting the student experience in favor raking in the alum bucks, and you now have more alums attending the games than students.
I'm too far removed from being a student to say whether the students would fill the stands were the seats theirs -- but it does seem to me that, in all Bruin sports venues, there are more alums than students in attendance. Most likely, this is a combination of an ineffective AD and the "cash cow" syndrome. My preference: the best seats go to the students. It is their time, not ours.
The impact of isolating the students? Most of the noise will come from the non-student seating. There are not enough student seats AND they do not surround the field. That's a huge difference. One that can be corrected.
In my day, we did not rely on the alums to bring the pain. The students did. That's how it should be.
2. There was no "alumni cheerleader". We had the responsibility of leading EVERYONE. We spread out and got the job done. The alums were great -- they followed our lead. We did not have two classes of fan or two sets of leaders. No dueling banjos.
3. Free's point deserves consideration: Were there no Geoff, would the student yell leaders step up and fill the void? And, would they do it well? Whether they would, or not, I don't know. But, I do know that students are capable of getting the job done -- they did it many years ago -- IF they take responsibility for "mastering the craft" and structuring the task in a way that takes control of the situation. Teenagers can do that. I have confidence that if challenged they would.
They have to "take control" of the yells -- own them. The 8 clap is a good example (I've ranted about this over and over). It is supposed to build, rhythmic and powerful. It's not to be rushed, trilled, or raced into oblivion. Through the 90's, when I was back in LA, and now, when I get to games, I sit about 40 rows up, and near the 50 yard line -- between Geoff and the student yell leaders. I have NEVER seen a student yell leader lead a proper 8 clap -- never. I'm not sure they know how to do one. But, I am sure that they could learn and lead. Others before them have.
They also need to develop some new yells -- game specific. In the "old days" guys like head yell leader Al Chozen were like situational comics -- funny but deadly in the yells they created. Terry Stewart, the head yell leader when I was on the side lines, had a keen sense of the game, a good sense of humor, and wonderful timing. Both Al and Terry were "kids".
In the old days, yell leaders were selected for their ability to speak and lead -- yes, young kids, speaking slowly and leading. We could not tumble, form pyramids, or dance -- but we could lead yells. I have no doubt we have kids at UCLA who could easily do the same -- if they had to tryout and prove that they could. It is a big university with a diverse student body. Not all of the kids "talk too fast" or lack poise. The leaders are there. I view this as a non-issue.
4. Geoff Strand has performed an admirable service and deserves praise, not derision. Whether his presence fills a void, or creates it, is open to discussion. But, having attended many, many games in the Rose Bowl, in the last 20 years, I believe that without his presence and leadership, we would have less of a home field atmosphere and the support for our team would suffer. But, I'm not sure it had to be that way. I truly believe that a student crew, covering the entire venue, could have done the same.
5. Is it time to change back to the "all student" crew? If we could do it in a way that honored and respected the old while empowering the new, I think we should. These are supposed to be "student experiences". In the best world, I'd like to see the old mentor and build the new -- and then stand beside, instead of in front of them.
But, I assume a world in which Bruin sports means the same to current students as it did to the old (who are now the noise making alums that Geoff leads). That they will turn out, bring their passion, and yell 'til they drop. Because, when they get old, they will remember those moments far more than they will remember anything they heard in a classroom or wrote on a test.
We wil not know whether we can get there unless we start down the path. In this, what I understand is Geoff's last year, we should start paving the road to the future -- one led by our students.